Boyers invokes the atmospheric city of Venice, addressing both its dream-like ephemerality and its Shakespearean underbelly of duplicity, sexuality, and debris. "Cymbals and drums/ confirm it all," she writes in the opening poem, drawing from a memory in which loyalties are variable and display a sinister performativity. Boyers adapts the voices of famous Venetians to tell the story of her enchantment with this place: "Dearest Mama: Eel! I am to eat eel," Effie Gray Ruskin exclaims, "the heads of eel after eel, flinging// the wretched beasts, still/ twitching, into shopping bags/ of eager, festive customers." In "Wall Moss" Boyers appropriates an altogether different kind of speaker, offering this advice: "Grow resourceful./ Become like me completely Venetian:/ cling to debris, favor ruin." The emphasis on fragments and remains appears elsewhere in the collection, "the lives—the lies—we lived/ on both sides of the canal,// invisible the water's stench at low tide... a local specialty: filth/ disguised as ornament." Boyers debunks the idea of a scenic, postcard-worthy Venice in favor of a more complex attachment—one no less enchanting for its human influences, its "Silence, then the boatman's cry." (Nov.)
To Forget Venice is the improbable challenge and the title of Peg Boyers’s newest collection of poems. The site of several unforgettable years of her adolescence, the place she has returned to more frequently than any other, the city of Venice is both adored and reviled by the speakers in this varied and unconventionally polyphonic work. The voices we hear in these poems belong not only to characters like the mother of Tadzio (think Death in Venice), or the companion of Vladimir Ilych Lenin, or the Victorian prophet John Ruskin and his wife, Effie, but also to wall moss, and sand, andmost especiallyan authorial speaker who in 1965, at age thirteen, landed in Venice and never quite recovered from the formative experiences that shaped her there. Ranging over several stages of a life that features adolescent heartbreak and betrayal, marriage and children, friendship and loss, the book insistently addresses the author’s desire to get to the bottom of her obsession with a place that has imprinted itself so profoundly on her consciousness.
To Forget Venice is a tour de force of ventriloquism. Elegant, contemporary, and wry, the voice at its center is also capable of disarming flights of imagination as it enters and inhabits other lives across time and gender. The glittering, fetid city emerges as a complex metaphor for the human heart’s simultaneous tenderness and capacity for cruelty, its ‘silver glow / a local specialty: filth / disguised as ornament.’ This Venice is unforgettable.
"To forget Venice, so literarily memorable as a site of memory, would be to let slip, not just Mann and James, but the first premise of much that is modern and especially of the poets (Bidart, Howard, Hecht) in whose company Boyers so clearly belongs. . . . Along with the rewarding and varied dramatic personae in this book, there is a beautiful and unsettling novel, in fragments, in the voice of a girl who is aware that she has seen too much and been too much the object of another's sight. Such knowledge draws these poems, these voices toward a place of shadows."